‘Brands should stop seeing age as a defining feature of the over-50s’

New research shows the over-50s feel misrepresented and ignored by advertising because brands are using their age, rather than their attitude and lifestyles, to target products and services.

The over-50s feel misrepresented and ignored by advertising because advertisers just see their age, rather than taking into account attitudes, lifestyles and lifestages.

New research conducted by Gransnet and Mumsnet among 1,028 of their users finds 78% of those aged 50 or over feel under-represented or misrepresented by advertising. This is worst for technology brands, cited by 87% of those questioned, followed by fashion brands (84%) and the entertainment industry (79%).

Nearly two-thirds (62%) believe they are ignored because advertisers are too young to understand the demographic, with 88% saying brands and agencies should employ more older people. Some 93% think advertisers need to start asking what over-50s want, rather than assuming, while 92% want advertisers to acknowledge their spending power.

This has consequences for brands. Almost half (49%) of those questioned say they actively avoid brands who ignore them, while 69% suggest that if advertising is more representative of their age group they would be more receptive to the brand behind it.

Gransnet editor Lara Crisp says: “If advertisers want to talk to the over-50s, who have more disposable income than any other age group, they need to start by listening to them. It’s just plain odd for marketers to assume that there’s an upper age-limit when it comes to having an interest in technology, fashion or blockbuster films.”

Gransnet revealed the research at Festival of Marketing last week (11 October). And speaking on a panel, Tanya Joseph, corporate affairs director at Nationwide and the architect of Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, says advertisers need to start seeing “diversity around age”.

“Watching advertising, you would think all older people wear cardigans, are incontinent and eat Werthers Orginals. Brands need to stop taking a nostalgic view of what older people are like,” she said.

Even though I’m a foodie, I’m a family man and I love film and Luton Town; my targeting is funeral plans, walk-in baths and pensions.

David Wheldon, RBS Group

Tom Goodwin, head of innovation at Zenith, agreed. He described the way the ad industry targets millennials over all other age groups as “insane”, particularly because “older people have all the money and millennials have no money at all”.

“We need to rethink all the assumptions we make about age groups, including their media habits. We have this strange assumption that millennials are on Snapchat and older people are listening to the wireless, but of course they are downloading apps, streaming content,” he exclaimed.

“It is down to brands to tackle those assumptions and ad agencies to ask harder questions. And we need to get out there in the real world and see how normal people behave so it is less about cliché tactics and more about the interesting things that connect with older people.”

Speaking on a separate panel earlier in the day, RBS Group CMO David Wheldon described the exasperation he feels when targeted for funeral plans and walk-in baths rather than things he is actually interested in such as films and football.

“I’m a big user of all sorts of social media platforms and even though I’m a foodie, I’m a family man and I love film and Luton Town; my targeting is funeral plans, walk-in baths and pensions,” he said.

To do this, Joseph suggests brands need to stop targeting by age and start targeting by attitude and life-stage.

“These attributes are much more likely to determine how we vote, how we purchase. Age is not a defining feature,” she said.

Goodwin agreed. “Demographics have been proven to be nonsense yet we insist on using them. Big data can measure attitude, intent, likely behaviours. We need to get better at using data signals rather than demographics.”



There are 7 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Craig Coultman-Smith 15 Oct 2018

    AT LAST!!! Well done Sarah! Us baby boomers refuse to be an ‘age’….we’re not lying down…we are us and we do what we want to do. That’s it. 😀

  2. Oakley Walters 16 Oct 2018

    It feel somewhat ridiculous that this article perpetuates the underlying issue, namely that over 50s is not a credible age range. Would we lump-target the 20-50 y/o demographic in the same way? Not only are they more technologically sophisticated than most fresh-from-uni brand managers might assume, but also they span at least 3 different life stages (which in itself is anachronistic – http://www.100yearlife.com/)…

    The marketing industry is driven by the fetishisation of the new, biased by the fact that the majority of jobs are held by the ‘young’ who can’t help but sell to themselves, lazily failing to look beyond the end of their nose to understand the what their target demographic might actually want & need.

  3. Greg Pipe 18 Oct 2018

    As someone who is rather rapidly, it feels, approaching that 50 year old marker, I know I’m becoming more aware of how advertising conversations seem to struggle with how to speak to the over 50’s audience. Having worked on a number of clients who target the more mature sector it’s worrying just how they all get lumped together. Oakley Walters makes the point well, we don’t lump everyone under 50 together, so why do it to the over 50’s. I hope to god I don’t wake up on my 50th birthday and suddenly find a huge desire for beige cardigans and a walking stick. In fact the article typifies this in the choice of photo used at the top. That gentleman is closer to 70 than 50, yet when conversations of the over 50’s sector happen, this image it typically what gets used. I’m aware that during the course of a pitch a while ago, the client was heard to ask why no one on the team was older, i.e. anyone over 35!

    This debate though has been going on for years, with the industry sharing an obsessive desire to target young consumers. The belief being, get them young and keep them forever. But research shows this is patently untrue, yet seems something agencies are doomed to ignore and keep repeating. Then again, when there is a sharp drop off of anyone working in advertising past the age of 50, can you blame all these whippersnappers. I’m off to have a nice Ovaltine and find a tartan rug to keep my legs warm. Nurse??!!!

  4. Fiona Lomas 18 Oct 2018

    There is a huge opportunity for marketers to create value for their organisations by targeting people over 50, after all as Tom point out in the article, they have most of the money. First order of business is to stop thinking of them as a demographic and start thinking of them as people. Best way to do this – go and talk to as many potential customers as you can. This will help you recognise your own bias and help you build marketing plans that are a credit to you and truly engage with your target consumers.

  5. Heather Johnston 21 Oct 2018

    It’s not being targetted as post 50 that’s so bad, it’s the assumption that post 50 is the new ninety. (PARDON, DEAR? SPEAK UP!- they all mutter these days, it’s so rude) And of course your brain cells are falling off one by one (YES, I DO KNOW WHAT A REVERSIONARY MORTGAGE IS AND YOU”LL GET MY MONEY WHEN I’M GOOD AND DEAD!) and nobody is remotely interested in sex or anything that actually tastes of anything (YOU! M&S! I’M TALKING TO YOU!) or does not stretch to fit in Queen Mum colours. There’s a big bag of cash as the reward for the guys who crack this one. Now do I have your attention?

  6. Andrea Hewitt 22 Oct 2018

    If companies hired people over the age of 50, that would be a good start. There’s rampant ageism in the workplace, with anyone over that age completely overlooked in the hiring process. A bad move, especially as the 50+ generation are the ones with the money – precisely the generation that most brands should be targeting.

  7. Sally O'Brien 22 Oct 2018

    The picture says it all..

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